Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile

Mobility Land-based
Targets Short-, medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missile, air-breathing targets
Role Area point defense, intercept in terminal phase
Producer Lockheed Martin
Components AN/MPQ-65 radar
engagement control station
M901 Launching Station
OE-349 Antenna Mast Group

M985 Guided Missile Transporter

Range PAC-3 Cost Reduction Initiative (CRI): 20km against ballistic missile
PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE): 30km against ballistic missile


The PAC-3 missile family is the fourth upgrade to the MIM-104 missile series for the Patriot system.  The PAC-3 is designed to intercept tactical, short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and air-breathing threats.[i]  It intercepts ballistic missiles in their terminal phase of flight.  It’s designed to be an integral weapon in a layered air defense network to protect tactical and operational support areas at semi-fixed locations.[ii]

This update to the PAC missile series provides a small, agile, kinetic hit-to-kill interceptor, providing many advantages over previous models.  The PAC-3 is about a quarter of the size of its PAC-2 predecessor, allowing four missiles to be fit in each canister as opposed to one.[iii]  This effectively quadruples the ability of the Patriot system to cover an area. The PAC-3 also possesses higher maneuverability from 180 miniature pulse solid propellant rocket motors mounted in the forebody of the missile.  These motors perform fine alignment of the interceptor to achieve hit-to-kill.[iv]  The PAC-3 also uses a Ka band active radar seeker which allows the missile to acquire its target during the terminal phase independently of the target acquisition system in the ground station. These latter two features not only improve the reaction time of the missile against a fast-moving ballistic missile target, but also make the missile accurate enough to home in on the warhead portion of a ballistic missile. Moreover, they also render the old proximity detection system of previous interceptors obsolete.

PAC-3 Variants

  • PAC-3 CRI: While earlier PAC-2 missiles were all blast fragmentation interceptors, the effectiveness of the PAC-3 increases with hit-to-kill interceptor systems. Patriot launchers that have been appropriately modified can also carry 16 PAC-3 interceptors in contrast to being able to load four PAC-2 missiles.
  • PAC-3 MSE: The PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) achieves greater speeds and maneuverability to allow it to defeat more advanced ballistic and cruise missiles. The PAC-3 MSEs feature a larger, dual pulse solid rocket motor, larger fins, and upgraded actuators and thermal batteries to accommodate increased performance and extended missile range.  The tradeoff is that fewer PAC-3 MSEs can fit on a Patriot launcher compared to the PAC-3 CRI. Twelve individual PAC-3 MSE Missiles can be loaded on a Patriot launcher or a combination of six MSEs and eight PAC-3 CRI Missiles can be loaded. The PAC-3 MSE is capable of intercepting longer-range theater ballistic missiles.

U.S. Allies have procured PAC-3 variant missiles

  • PAC-3 CRI
    • Taiwan
    • Greece
    • Jordan
    • The Netherlands
    • Egypt
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Spain
    • Kuwait
  • PAC-3 MSE
    • Romania
    • Poland
    • Sweden
    • Bahrain
  • Use Both
    • Qatar
    • Japan
    • United Arab Emirates
    • Republic of Korea
    • Germany

New developments

The U.S. Army accepted the first PAC-3 MSE interceptors on October 6, 2015.[v]  Initial Operating Capacity was declared in August 2016.[vi] It entered full range production in 2018.[vii]

The PAC-3 MSE was designed with the intent to be the main munition for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program, a collaboration between the U.S.-Germany-Italy, to replace the Patriot System.  Germany selected the MEADS to replace the Patriot in June 2015.  The program hit acquisition road bumps and was canceled.  It has been revived under the name TVLS and talks have been ongoing between Lockheed Martin-MBDA and the German government, however, the two sides still are at odds over cost and responsibilities.[viii]

On June 25th, 2020 a PAC-3 MSE successfully intercepted a tactical ballistic missile at White Sands Missile Range, NM.  The test verified missile software and hardware component upgrades that enable the future performance of the PAC-3 MSE interceptor to keep pace against expanding threats of today and tomorrow.[ix]  This comes after the PAC-3 CRI intercepted two tactical ballistic missiles and an air-breathing target at a record distance in two tests held in November and August 2019 respectively.[x][xi]